Home News Hopes rise for new Gaza ceasefire talks as Israel scales back demands

Hopes rise for new Gaza ceasefire talks as Israel scales back demands

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Israeli negotiators have reduced the number of hostages they want Hamas to release during the first phase of a ceasefire, three Israeli officials said on Monday, offering a glimmer of hope for ceasefire talks in the Gaza Strip.

Ceasefire talks have been stalled for weeks. Now, armed with new proposals, a mid-level Israeli delegation plans to fly to Cairo on Tuesday to resume the meeting, but only if Hamas agrees to participate, two officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.

Hamas did not respond to a request for comment on whether it would send representatives to Cairo. A senior Hamas official said on social media on Monday that the group was studying a new Israeli proposal.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a meeting with Arab diplomats in Saudi Arabia on Monday that the onus now fell on Hamas.

“Hamas has a very generous offer from Israel in front of it,” Blinken told an economic forum in Riyadh. “Currently, the only obstacle standing in the way of a ceasefire for the people of Gaza is Hamas.”

Speaking at the same forum, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said the offer included a 40-day ceasefire and the release of thousands of Palestinians who may be imprisoned in Israel in exchange for hostages held by Hamas. .

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said he was “hopeful” about the latest ceasefire proposal, but he did not say what it involved or who had proposed it.

President Joe Biden plans to speak to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar on Monday in an effort to increase pressure on Hamas leaders to accept a ceasefire.

But other serious obstacles may remain, including Hamas’s demand for a permanent ceasefire and Israel’s insistence on pursuing the goal of rooting out the militants, including in their last bastion in the southern city of Rafah.

There are also concerns that ceasefire negotiations could be disrupted if the International Criminal Court becomes involved. issue arrest warrant Senior Israeli government officials have been indicted on charges related to the conflict with Hamas, in what Israeli and foreign officials believe is brewing. The arrest warrant may also name Hamas officials.

Hamas and its allies captured about 240 Israelis and foreigners in a deadly attack on October 7, sparking the war. During a week-long ceasefire in November, Hamas released 105 prisoners in exchange for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

In recent months, Israel has been demanding that Hamas release at least 40 hostages – women, the elderly and the seriously ill – to secure a new ceasefire. Israeli officials said they were now prepared to accept only 33 aircraft.

Part of the reason for this shift is that Israel now believes that some of the 40 countries have died in captivityaccording to an official.

While Hamas and Israeli negotiators may be getting closer to their first truce since a ceasefire in November, their militants are continuing to advance.

In Gaza, Israeli airstrikes leveled concrete buildings overnight, according to news agencies, which on Monday released video of rows of body bags. Reuters said the attack killed 20 people.

The Israeli military said in a statement on Monday that its “fighters struck terrorist targets operating in civilian areas in southern Gaza.”

More than a million Gazans have flocked to shelters and tents in Rafah to escape an Israeli military offensive.

One survivor, holding a baby she said was rescued from the rubble, told a Reuters video reporter that the child appeared uninjured but that her parents had been killed.

“Look at us with some compassion, some humanity,” said the woman, Umm Fayez Abu Taha. “That’s what we’re asking for. We’re not asking for much: just an end to the war, that’s it.”

In northern Israel, Hamas rockets were fired across the border from Lebanon. Hamas’s military wing, the Qassam Brigades, said in a statement that they carried out a “concentrated rocket attack” on an Israeli military position in Shmona, the largest city in Israel’s Far North.

Although Hamas is headquartered in Gaza, many of its leaders life in exile In Lebanon, the group has considerable influence there. Hamas has launched occasional rocket attacks into northern Israel from there since the war began, although its ally, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, has fired far more often. Both groups are backed by Iran.

Mohanad Haq Ali, a Beirut-based fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said Monday’s rocket attack, which reportedly caused little damage, could be an attempt by Hamas to send a signal that it “is still part of the fight.” “.

After arriving in Riyadh shortly after dawn, Secretary of State Blinken met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and then met with foreign ministers and senior foreign policy advisers from five other Arab countries. Mr. Blinken spoke with them about the war and the challenges it poses, from delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza to freeing hostages.

The U.S. secretary of state and the Saudi foreign minister also talked about strengthening regional integration and “a path to a Palestinian state that provides security for Israel,” the State Department summary said. Later in the day, Blinken met with Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, before attending a working dinner with officials from five Arab and five European countries to discuss the war . He plans to travel to Jordan and Israel on Tuesday.

In the best-case scenario, the Biden administration expects Saudi Arabia and some other Arab countries to agree to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel.In exchange, Saudi Arabia will receive advanced weapons and security guarantees, including mutual defense treatyfrom the United States and committed to cooperate with the United States The Kingdom’s Civilian Nuclear Program.

U.S. and Saudi officials say Israel, for its part, must commit to a concrete path to a Palestinian state and set specific deadlines.

Speaking at an economic forum in Saudi Arabia, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said additional measures must be taken to end the conflict: “Those responsible for the events of October 7, namely the leadership of Hamas, must leave Gaza.”

Report contributors: Vivian Nerem, Liam Stark, Euan Ward, Wydah Saad, Jonathan Rosen and Zoran Sugano-Youngs.

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